The impact of addiction on relationships and families is well-known. Prescription drug addiction and the family is a subject that we’re hearing more about in counseling. Recently there has been an upswing in the amount of people addicted to prescription drugs. In America alone, the numbers are disturbingly high. Somewhere around 20 Million and those are only the known cases. Patients who take prescriptions following surgery, chronic pain sufferers and military veterans returning from service with injuries that require pain relief are believed to account for the majority of the increase. Sadly, young people are also experimenting with prescription medications which they obtain (covertly) from parents and on the street. All of these scenarios can lead to addiction.
What does Addiction to Prescriptions Look Like?
While we might expect prescription drug addiction to be vastly different from addiction to street drugs like cocaine or heroin, but when you get down to the basics it’s really not that different. Addiction is addiction whether it’s to food, sex, drugs or gambling. While the path to addiction differs in subtle ways for the prescription drug addict, the end result is the same. Once addicted, the addict will do anything and everything to make sure that he/she has the substance they so desperately need to maintain their addiction. This includes breaking trust with friends and family, lying, hoarding, stealing, sneaking and fighting to get their fix.
How Does it Happen?
Addiction is stealthy and insidious. I don’t think anyone sets out to become addicted to prescription drugs, so how does it happen? The patient is in pain from illness or injury so their doctor prescribes opioids, narcotics, pills or patches to give relief. It seems straight ahead. There’s no doubt that the pain is real, the need is there. The body naturally builds up resistance to drugs when taken over prolonged periods of time. Eventually, the prescribed dosage becomes less effective, so the patient takes it more frequently or adds to the dosage. This is where the red flags should go off, and the alarms should sound, but they don’t. Often caregivers are family members and they are not aware of the indications that the person is becoming dependent upon the drugs. They only see that their loved one is in pain and they want them to feel better.
As this dependence increases, the patient will often pursue other avenues for obtaining medications, including seeing multiple doctors, ordering prescriptions via mail order, duplicating prescriptions and lying to their medical providers to get other drugs that will help to keep them satisfied. Failing this, they may turn to black market sources, buy street drugs or fake another illness or symptom in order to get more medication. When an addict cannot get their drug, they can become agitated or violent, even physically unmanageable. This is when things become dire and the patient usually needs to be to be treated for their addiction. They can be weaned off the drug incrementally which is less of a shock to the system and they can get counseling and learn how to live and manage their symptoms without narcotics.
The Effect on the Family
Addiction destroys families. Watching your partner or family member slide into the horror of addiction is so painful. How do you help someone who is clearly in pain, but is behaving like a street drug addict? Family members often have to make incredibly difficult choices and draw clear boundaries around their addicted loved one. Addicts have no boundaries. They will lie, cheat and steal in order to feed their addiction. One of the toughest choices is whether the partner and family of the addict will enable them by covering for them, making excuses, giving them money and other help to keep them housed, clothed, and their bills paid while they are in the depths of their addiction or not. They may choose to salvage the remainder of the family and cut off the addict until they hit their “rock bottom” and seek help on their own. Another choice that many families make is to do an intervention with professional help from a counselor that specializes in addiction and families and get their family member into an in or out-patient drug treatment program.
The rise of prescription drug addiction has caused a backlash in the professional medical community. Because of the addictive properties of some medications, doctors are becoming less inclined to prescribe them (strong opioids) for more than a 2 week or 30 day duration depending upon the nature of illness or injury. They are now recommending chronic pain sufferers to explore other options including surgeries to reduce their need for these addictive drugs. Chronic pain sufferers are also turning to alternative forms of medicine such as acupuncture, yoga, herbal remedies, cannabis and other non-traditional healers to relieve their pain.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to prescription drugs, there is treatment available. Seek medical help for the physical addiction and pursue family and couples counseling to assist you in your recovery. It is possible to recover and to put your family back together again with help from a knowledgeable professional that understands the issues you are facing. You will have a great deal of work ahead to rebuild trust and learn how to live together in recovery. There may have been a great deal of damage done to the family and to your relationships but it is possible to repair those bonds and bring your family back together
Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW helps couples to overcome the disconnection in their relationships As an author, blogger and podcaster, Stuart has helped couples around the world to experience a unique relationship in which they can feel special and important, confident in knowing they are loved deeply and that their presence matters.
His weekend workshop, Two Days: Seven Conversations has become a popular venue for many to set off on their journey of connectedness. The Couples Expert Podcast consists of weekly provocative conversations offering the perspectives and insight of experts from a variety of relationship related fields. Stuart also offers daily relationship video tips on The Couples Expert YouTube channel.
Stuart is a couples counselor in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he lives with his loving wife of many years, and their therapy dog, Ollie.
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